I’m doing it guys – I’m finally writing a guide to the BEST Instagram photo spots in Madison, Wisconsin. Normally, I’m one to roll my eyes at blog posts claiming to share the “top Instagram locations” in whatever city. After all, we should be traveling to immerse ourselves in the experience, not check off a list of photo ops. But after coming home to Madison, Wisconsin from our 500 day round-the-world-honeymoon, I realized my city is hella photogenic!
For better or worse, photography is a big part of the travel experience for many people. Likewise, so is sharing that experience on social media. Many travelers overlook Madison, Wisconsin, because it doesn’t have the fame of bigger names like Las Vegas or New York.
This guide to the best Instagram photo spots in Madison, Wisconsin will convince you to visit this charming Midwest city. It’s a great place to take travel photos in locations most people have never seen pictures of before!
Downtown Madison, Wisconsin Instagram Photo Spots
University of Wisconsin Memorial Union Terrace
There’s nothing more “Madison” than the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union Terrace.
Over the decades, the colorful chairs with their sunburst backs – the design used for the chairs since the 1930s – have become synonymous with the city. The terrace opened in 1928 as a part of the University. Over the decades it’s become a social meeting point for the entire Madison community.
Inside, there’s a German-style beer hall, plenty of food stalls serving up brats and cheese curds, and an ice cream shop. Outside, you’ll find live music on summer nights, sailors on the lake, and hundreds of these iconic chairs.
The AC Hotel, set just a block off the Capital Square of downtown Madison, is a relatively new addition to the neighborhood. The rooftop wine bar, Eno Vino, boasts the best sunset views over the capitol building, and you don’t want to miss this supremely picturesque spot for happy hour drinks.
Tip: Make sure you go outside to the lower level patio from the main Eno Vino bar for the best views!
The second hotel to make my list, Hotel Indigo is another new addition to Madison’s near-eastside, but it pays homage to local history by incorporating relics from the Mautz Paint company that used to occupy this location.
One of the most notable nods to the historic Madison paint company is the large Mautz Paint sign that used to loom over E. Washington, and now greets guests at the check-in desk.
The onsite restaurant and lobby spaces also incorporate the paint theme, making it a fun spot to get creative with your photos.
The Monona Terrace is a Madison, Wisconsin landmark on the shores of Lake Monona. Frank Lloyd Wright (yep, the same one who earned Wisconsin our very own UNESCO World Heritage Site) designed the center in the 1930s, but his vision didn’t come to life until 1997. Nowadays, the architectural marvel is a photographer’s playground, making it a very Instagrammable attraction. Whether you’re on top of the terrace by the fountains, with views of the capitol building, or out on the lake catching one of Madison’s epic sunsets as the rays reflect off the building’s glass, this unique building is a perfect photo spot to capture Instagram moments to commemorate your Madison, Wisconsin trip.
Capital City Trail Along John Nolan Drive
For an epic view of the Madison skyline with Lake Monona in the foreground, no spot beats the Capital City Trail biking and running path along John Nolan Drive.
For the best view, take the path about a mile west from the capitol building until you get near Olin Park. Put in “Olin Park vantage” in Google Maps for directions to the best spot!
The capitol building in downtown Madison is just a few blocks from my home. While this building was modeled after the US national capitol building in DC, I think this one is way prettier. I’m a bit biased, but in my opinion it is a “do-not-miss” iconic Instagram photo spot in Madison, in addition to being a great place to visit on your Wisconsin trip!
During the day time, the building’s doors are always open to freely explore. Climb to the top for a viewing platform over both Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, as well as the whole city from the top of the dome. In the summer the square around the building is home to the nation’s largest farmers market and weekly free concerts where beer and wine are welcome.
Oh, and here’s a fun fact for you true crime fans – the case profiled in Making a Murderer had a lot of hearings in this building, which you can also see for yourself in the Netflix series.
Street Art Instagram Photo Spots in Madison, Wisconsin
Madison is a great place to meander around in search of amazing street murals. The best ones, in my opinion, capture a sense of place and highlight the uniqueness of Madison. Here are just a few of my favorite Madison, Wisconsin Instagram-worthy street art photo spots:
The colorful geometric pattern on the façade of Madison’s new live performance venue is a perfect backdrop for photos. I used it in a series of photos I took for my collaboration with online CBD boutique, LivWave.
Train of Thought Mural – S Paterson and E Main
This is one of my favorite murals in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. Aside from the funky colors and (cheesy) inspirational message, I also love that you can see the past and present of Madison’s near east side on the skyline behind it.
To the right, one of the shiny new buildings stands as a symbol of all the change this neighborhood has seen over the last decade – one of many new buildings that make up the biggest development project in the city’s history.
To the left, a few of the remaining smoke stacks remind me that this whole neighborhood east of Madison’s capital building was pretty empty when I first moved to the city. It was like a dead zone between the bustling neighborhood around the capitol building, and the hipster art scene neighborhood known simply as Willy Street. My friends and I used to jokingly call this no man’s land the “industrial zone”, but that’s actually what it was.
Now, it’s got tons of new restaurants, bars, music venues, and even its own wildly popular soccer team.
Madison Mural Alley on Hermina Street in Madison, Wisconsin.
Nestled on Hermina Street just off of E. Washington, Madison Mural Alley is a relatively new spot to find a high concentration of stunning and colorful murals. Even better, each one was painted in collaboration between local and international mural artists and area teens.
State Street Instagram Photo Spots in Madison, Wisconsin
Pedestrian-friendly State Street
State Street, in the heart of Madison, Wisconsin is the pulse of the city. It connects the capitol building to the University of Wisconsin. It’s home to dozens of restaurants, shops, and bars. It’s the location of political marches and game day pub crawls.
When I first moved to Madison nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t know that I would spend countless nights on State Street hanging out with virtual strangers who would become some of my best friends; that I would live by myself for the first time ever just a block off it; that I would run the last few hundred meters of a marathon on it; or that I’d be walking down it drinking a banana milkshake on one of my first dates with my future husband.
10 years later, I look at this place and suddenly see all the life I’ve lived there – a decade’s worth of memories on one little street. That’s why it’s one of my favorite Instagram photo spots in Madison, Wisconsin.
While you’re on State Street, you do NOT want to miss Fresco’s rooftop bar, inside the Overture Center building. This restaurant not only has great food and drinks, it also has the best Instagram-worthy views from above State Street, where you can see (and photograph) several Madison, Wisconsin landmarks, all in one frame!
- Orpheum Theater marquee – From atop the Fresco patio, you can see the restored sign of this famous art deco theater. Fun fact: it was the first building in Wisconsin to have air conditioning!) .
- Wisconsin State Capitol Dome – Look to your right over State Street and you’ll get a perfect view of the dome of Wisconsin’s capitol building, built in the early 1900s.
- Capitol Theater façade – The right wall of the patio is actually the side of the original 1920s theater that once showed silent films and vaudeville acts in Madison.
The iconic art deco Orpheum marquee is a State Street landmark, and the French Renaissance interior is reason enough to buy a ticket to one of several events happening every week in this historic theater.
Wisconsin Instagram Photo Spots Near Madison
Epic Intergalactic Headquarters
When I started my first “grown-up” job at Epic, a healthcare software development company, in 2009, they had one “campus” of 5 office buildings and about 3,000 employees. Now, they have 5 campuses (all on the same expansive property) and nearly 12,000 employees.
Each building has a theme, like Fairy Tales, Japan, Wizards, Alice in Wonderland, England, etc. Exploring the buildings is like walking through a theme park or an art museum, and it is fantastically geeky. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, do not miss the Wizard’s Academy, and if you’re a fan of Japanese art, check out the impressive collection in Kohoutek!
When you arrive at the main entrance, a receptionist will greet you. Just tell them you are here for a self-guided tour, and they will give you a pamphlet with maps and directions to plan your route! Make sure you visit during the company’s public visiting hours, which are 3-5pm Monday through Friday and 10am to 3pm on weekends.